Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hell's Bells   Rewatch 
February 17, 2016 8:59 PM - Season 6, Episode 16 - Subscribe

It's Xander and Anya's wedding day! There's dresses and demons and drunkards! There's also an old dude claiming to be Future!Xander, warning the groom not to make a terrible mistake.
posted by yellowbinder (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of the big "Oh, fuck you, Joss" episodes. There's no reason for Xander to be this dumb. "Hey, I was lying the whole time!" "Nah, that's cool, gonna act on what you were telling me anyway, thanks."
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:50 AM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Can you imagine what UPN suits were feeling at this point? They thought they were getting one of the best shows on TV, and it was more like WB left a burning crapsack on their doorstep.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:48 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I generally love Xander but I hate him in this episode. If he could have gotten over the fear of commitment, he would have made a decent husband. It also eats at me that in the next episode he wants his friends to get over the wedding fiasco when he's captain of the not letting shit go club.
posted by toomanycurls at 8:00 AM on February 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah this is harsh. Not quite the capstone on the most heartbreaking season of anything ever, but we're getting there. A happy wedding, even if we did explore cold feet, would really have brightened the darkness significantly. Shoving the only two characters NOT horribly depressed down into the muck with the others... ugh damn you Joss and Marti Noxon.

It's not even that justified. The dragged feet on the announcement was a bad sign, and they always fought a little, but the jitters revealed in I'll Never Tell weren't anything relationship crushing. But no, Xander gets a glimpse of a miserable future, finds it's false but still fears it anyway and bolts. Ugh. Could really have been a chance for the character to prove his strength. Instead it just feels like more forced pain, and the strings are showing.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:17 AM on February 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

The saddest part of his vision of the future was that he was injured fighting alongside Buffy, making him unable to fight OR lead even as much of a traditional civilian life as his dysfunctional parents.

Even if the vision of the future was a lie, he knew that he would always choose Buffy, and a fight he was physically unsuited for, over his partner and to his detriment.

I mean, he's a dick head and his decision was shit, he could have resolved everything with communication, offered that new insight about himself to Anya and given her a chance to accept or decline but instead he has to play at being her hero longterm by being her villain short term. Dumbass .
posted by elr at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

could have resolved everything with communication

The throughline for the entire series.
posted by Etrigan at 10:41 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kind of a throughline for almost all Western drama since forever ("hey Oedipus, who's your daddy?").
posted by wabbittwax at 10:43 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

And in real life, too, when you're twenty years old.

Anya is my favorite character on this show, and Xander undoubtedly is a dick in this episode, but honestly, those two had no business getting married in the first place. Xander is basically still a child and Anya has only been human for two years. I hate the way their relationship ended, but it was a bizarre choice to have them decide to get married in the first place.
posted by something something at 11:38 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

While Anya maybe only two in human years, she's still way more human than Xander who couldn't understand why she would sleep with Spike. Leaving her at the alter was a dick move, but for my money his judgement with how she attempts to cope is really dicklicious. You jilted at the alter! She's allowed to literally do ANYTHING and you can't show moral disapproval at that point. If she kicks puppies as a form of therapy....ok maybe you can object, but sleeping with someone inappropriate? That's a tried and true way of coping with heartbreak when you are young. That Xander doesn't get that...he's way less human.

Anya always drove the relationship while Xander just kinda tagged along for the sex. What's out of character is his proposal, but it's done in a moment of "We are all gonna die." Anya should have taken the hint from his feet dragging and dumped him.

What hurts me more than anything is she sort of takes him back in s7. Anya deserves someone decent and there is no reason she couldn't have someone.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:13 PM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

This has been swirling around in my head all day. I said the breakup wasn't really justified, but I had a young engagement called off myself and pretty much immediately knew it was right. Young marriages that happen because the participants don't know they can do better, because this is the thing you do next, because this is the end of the fairy tale and you're going to live happily ever after even if you're not happy right now... those marriages happen or don't happen and work out or don't work out. Xander's literally 20 or 21, I buy him proposing in fear, and I buy him running in fear too, although it's pretty shitty the way he does it.

But really we don't know enough about their relationship to say if it would have worked or not. They're a tv couple of comic relief characters, of course they're going to fight, but I think they seem to get on well enough most of the time. If the show wanted to they could have them happily marry, or they could have this decision fully justified as an actual good thing in the long run, but as it is it just seems calculated to cause more pain.
posted by yellowbinder at 5:21 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

To me this all flows pretty naturally from two fairly consistent aspects of Xander's character: 1) His Big Showy Gestures = Love mindset and 2) His unwillingness to admit when he's screwed up.

So in my headcanon, the proposal happens because he loves Anya and there's scary world-ending stuff happening, and he wants to prove his love to her, and the only way he knows how is a Big Showy Gesture, and a proposal is definitely a Big Showy Gesture.

And then he starts having doubts about the whole thing, but he doesn't talk to Anya about them, because that might mean admitting that he made a mistake in proposing, or that he's the kind of guy who harbors doubts about marrying someone that he loves.

And then when this Faux Older Xander shows up, and tells Xander that he can't get married to Anya, Xander feels a certain sense of relief that he's been given an out--he doesn't have to get married, and he can think of backing out as a Big Showy Gesture for Anya's benefit. Then when the hoax is revealed, Xander can't forget that sense of relief, and so he subconsciously clings to the rationalization and calls off the wedding.

And then he won't stand up and announce that the wedding's off, because that would mean admitting he'd screwed up in front of a bunch of people. Instead he leaves that to Anya, which I find exceptionally dickish. Like he's had months of doubts leading up to this moment. Anya's been blindsided by, because he's refused to communicate his fears, and now she's got this emotional labor dumped on top of her pain and shock and confusion.

None of this means that this episode should have been written as depressingly as it was, or should have been included in a particularly dark season, but to me it doesn't feel like it comes out of left field. It's just some aspects of Xander's character combining to produce a perfect storm of awfulness.
posted by creepygirl at 6:10 PM on February 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I can understand Xander in this episode, but I can't empathize with him, because I'm so heartbroken for Anya. Probably a sign of their relationship's flaws is how heavily the relationship is balanced in Xander's favor. Xander cuts Anya off without explanation, and in the process Anya loses everything: her happiness, her home, her job, her imagined future; her friends, because they were all Xander's friends first and foremost; her humanity, and finally her life.

I so badly wanted the timeline to split right here, so Tara, Anya, and Spike could leave town together, the Scooby Survivors broken hearts support group and binge drinking club. Instead they all end up dead.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:41 PM on February 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I hadn't thought of this before, but I ended up liking Anya, Spike and Tara better than the main gang. I definitely found them more sympathetic, and even just generally more interesting than their romantic counterparts for season 6 and 7.
posted by skewed at 9:20 PM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Can you imagine what UPN suits were feeling at this point? They thought they were getting one of the best shows on TV, and it was more like WB left a burning crapsack on their doorstep.

I completely disagree with this. Look I agree with the final plot twist, but this is a great episode of television. It's really, really funny, and very heart breaking. It's frustrating, sure, and I think ultimately the wrong decision, but I won't accept that Season 6 is low quality. It's not Buffy as we might have come to expect it in 1-4, although 5 had given us hints, but it's absolutely something interesting, funny and engaging.

To get at this, I want to think a little about why we watch television. If it's just for light entertainment, an engaging story, then I think Season 6 of Buffy absolutely fails at that. But that's the shift the show has made. Buffy 1-4 was a show about an exciting plot with engaging characters. 6 is a character drama. The demon here is a mislead, what's driving the plot at this point are the decisions the characters make.

I guess the question is, do we buy the decision Xander makes in this episode? I, ultimately, don't for a lot of reasons I'll get to, but I'd like to defend this choice first. First of all, it does make the characters more interesting. In particular, this episode directly sets up Selfless, one of the best episodes of the show ever made. Second of all, there are lots of in character justifications for Xander being live this, which creepy girl has expounded on. One thing that's never made explicit is that Xander has probably been abused, at the very least emotionally, by his parents for most of his life. It's absolutely reasonable to be worried that he might repeat that cycle.

However, the reasons I don't love this

-While the season has pointed out Xander and Anya's problems, it's given us every reason to think they'll make it through, in particular Xander's speech last episode. Betraying this is a betrayal of the audience.
-This season is pretty dark as is, and it's actually nice to have a contrast, especially as at this point when things are starting to get better for Buffy. While Selfless is great I'm not sure the whole "Anya sleeps with Spike" thing added much more than a bit of angst to the story.
-People tend to break engagements before a wedding. Doing so on the day is unbelievably cruel, and frankly Xander will have trouble coming back from this. I'm completely with miss lapin that we have no sympathy for him when Anya sleeps with Spike. Losing audience empathy for a main character who plays a big role in the conclusion of this season is a mistake, and I don't think it was intentional.

The final point about why I don't like the choice is character attachment. I mentioned above as to why we watch television, and one thing I think writers don't really value is that we become attached to characters. We like them, we want to see them succeed, we want to see them happy. This fannish tendency is what drives ships and all that other tumblr/fic craziness that exists out there. So when the writer hurts a character we love, this can feel like the writer is directly attacking us. I think this is the main reason people (and I) don't like this development; after all we've already sat through a season where our hero is depressed, her best friend is a magic addict and broke up with her girlfriend. This tendency directly conflicts with what writers want to do. Writers rarely want to give the viewer exactly what they want, because in many cases what the viewer thinks they want would actually be pretty boring. Still, sometimes you need to give in and have a moment to feed the fans. Season 6 is almost entirely devoid of those moments ("I'd like to test that theory." aside) and I think that's why a lot of people don't like it.

-Anyas people being circus folk is a really funny gag, and I love how they all just go with it.
-"Xander's folks haven't been this bad since my bah mitzvah"
-"Cousin Carol, your earrings are my cufflinks."
-Anyas vows are great. "What are you, a sea captain?"
-"Take my heart won't you please"
-"Hyman's greetings."
-I think they forgot Spike is a vampire in this episode. He turns up, in the day, from outside, and leaves the same way
-"Sex poodle? I'm not sure you should say sex poodle."
-Buffy doing charades and juggling
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:55 PM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's kind of Joss Whedon's pattern to really ratchet up the audience's identification with/attachment to a character right before he kills them. I mean Anya doesn't die for a while, but still. If you're watching a Joss Whedon series and you find yourself falling in love with a character, be very worried about that character's fate.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:38 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cannon Fodder, the big problem I have with this season is not that the characters make bad choices -- arguably most of the best dramas of all time are about characters making bad choices -- but that the characters make dumb choices based on badly written plot outlines in which the characters don't behave like real people. That the choices are bad is incidental. The characters just do whatever will lead to the dreariest outcome, regardless of whether this gels with the show we have been watching for five years. Like: Why does Buffy work at Doublemeat Palace? Because it is sad. Why would Buffy work at Doublemeat Palace? It never makes sense; she could shake down the Watchers for cash, loot the homes of recently staked vampires, ask Angel for a loan, have her fantastically powerful magician BFF cast a spell for immense wealth, whatever. But that wouldn't be sad. So we can't do it! It must be this way, or the show can't be a bummer, and we've committed to bummertime this season. That's just...shitty writing.

This episode is problematic to me not because Xander lets Anya down -- this is conflict; conflict is good -- but because the rationale behind his actions is just...stupid. The entire wedding setup seems like nothing more than a workup to a pratfall. It's okay to engineer a story that way, but it shouldn't feel like that's what's happening to the viewer. I guess just, if you're gonna do this thing, do it better? People fuck up! It happens. But the show at this point doesn't seem to even have any empathy for its characters, who are primarily just windup dolls who fuck up when you set them down on a flat surface. They're not people; they're mistake-and-bad-impulse machines. It feels like a show written by people who don't understand people, but know they don't like them very much.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:34 AM on February 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Joss openly said no character in Buffy gets to be happy for long. That's true. even look at very minor characters, nope no happy. But I think Anya comes in for particularly bad treatment even by Whedon standards. She deserved to get over Xander. Going back to the well for him? After 1120 years? No.

Anya can do better even in Sunnydale.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:16 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks Cannon fodder for the agree. I always felt his condemnation was awful. I mean he does this amazing hurtful thing and she's trying to find solace and what does he do? SHOW UP AND BE JUDGY? Dude. It's not all about you. She's trying to recover from a devastating blow, made more devastating by her specific circumstance (all her friends are HIS friends). And I really wish SOMEONE had said "SHUT UP STOP JUDGING." I love Anya but admitting this was solace wasn't enough. I really wish she had torn into him or someone had. You dumped me at the alter but you're pissy I slept with someone else? Seriously have a coke and a smile and realize not your business anymore.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:29 AM on February 21, 2016

Why would Buffy work at Doublemeat Palace? It never makes sense; she could shake down the Watchers for cash, loot the homes of recently staked vampires, ask Angel for a loan, have her fantastically powerful magician BFF cast a spell for immense wealth, whatever. But that wouldn't be sad. So we can't do it!

Hell, they even established a perfect alternative career for her - construction - and then destroyed it super lazily with "randomly demons show up on her first day and this gets her fired." And then they never revisit the idea of Buffy getting a job where she could use her incredible physical strength ever again!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Random demons showing up to ruin your first day of work must happen to people in Sunnydale ALL THE TIME. Just dust yourself off and try again!

Xander showing up solely to be contemptuous of Anya sleeping with Spike was the moment my love for Xander died forever. For the rest of the series he is just Somebody That I Used To Know. And unfortunately his nastiness didn't come out of nowhere. One of the downsides of looking back at BtVS after years is the slow creeping realization of how muuuuuch Xander acted with women like a standard self-righteous slut-shaming Nice Guy perennially bitter about being friendzoned.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:21 PM on February 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Cannon Fodder, the big problem I have with this season is not that the characters make bad choices -- arguably most of the best dramas of all time are about characters making bad choices -- but that the characters make dumb choices based on badly written plot outlines in which the characters don't behave like real people.

That's fair. I do have similar criticisms that in some cases they want to get to certain places with characters so deliberately elide details to get there. Life Serial and this episode are probably the worst offenders. Life Serial is intended to justify Doublemeat Palace, but doesn't work hard enough at it to succeed. Buffy's reasons given in Doublemeat are somewhat understandable, but do ignore lots of things she hasn't tried yet. In fact, given that she ends up having to work lots of night shifts, working at the doublemeat is pretty terrible for her slaying duties!

However, I can't agree that the writing is that bad. Plotting on Buffy was always pretty sloppy and there are lots of things the writers simply don't think about that an intelligent viewer might think about. The main reason Buffy is depressed? Well motivated and convincing. In a way, this season is the pathetic fallacy writ large, in that a main characters emotional state is making their world a worse place to live in. Meanwhile Willow's arc is really great, one massive misstep aside. And similarly here, I don't think Xander's behaviour here is unmotivated, it's just poorly executed.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:57 AM on February 23, 2016

This is the Season 6 episode that I won't even try to defend. I like dark. I like heart-wrenching. I like the dreary and depressing and the widening gyre of almost all of Season 6. But not this.

Because this isn't just sad, or out-of-left-field, unjustified sad, or sad for the sake of making a hard season even harder. It's dramatically limp and unsatisfying. They just do a very bad job with it.

Faux Xander shows up pretty early on, gives Xander his nightmare vision, and Xander takes off into the rain. Then we get an interminable amount of time spent with Buffy and Willow and the assorted friends and family, who literally are just stalling for time - they have no story to progress here (aside from I guess Buffy being cool with Spike having brought his rando date.) We're not seeing Xander's story during this part, and Anya is clueless so we're not really seeing anything important from her, the guests are supposedly funny on paper but just cringey in execution, and here's Buffy, literally juggling to kill time. Then Xander's back, Faux Xander revealed, and... no real twist. No pay-off. Just a long wet fart of an ending.

And the thing is, if they really, for whatever reason, needed to go in this direction, there's a way they could have done it well, keeping most of this story in-tact. Basically: bring Anya into it.

Picture this: Xander gets the visions from Faux Xander, fine, but instead of the table-dusting non-business that everyone else (including Anya) is getting this whole time, Anya gets a "Fool for Love" - style flashback history of being cheated on by the erstwhile Troll, getting into the swing of vengeance (show the Chicago incident here) and falling for Xander and becoming a human who has faith in love again. Then when Faux Xander is revealed, it means more, and caps off an episode about everything Anya has done in her existence, and when Xander leaves, D'Hoffryn is there to snatch up Anya in the end, as now. But with a story that actually backs it up.

I hate this episode. Not for ruining the one healthy romantic relationship on the show (though no points for that) but for doing it while sucking.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

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